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How to Identify Your Personal Strengths

Build upon your gifts, talents, and abilities for a richer life.

Key points

  • Assessing and cataloging your personal strengths can be an important aspect of recovery.
  • The Adult Needs and Strengths Assessment is an effective tool to rate your strengths in 12 key areas.
  • Using existing strengths and developing new strengths can lead to greater quality of life.

Much has been written about the importance of finding and developing personal strengths as a vital part of the overall process of recovery when dealing with mental health or substance use issues. This is in contrast to an illness-based approach which has typically focused first on cataloging symptoms and problems associated with a person’s illness.

By understanding and increasing your personal strengths, you can build a reservoir of positive attitudes, behaviors, and activities which can increase your self-confidence and self-esteem. This can also help you reclaim a more full and complete life, rather than being defined only by your illness.

Often, when I’ve talked with people who are struggling with physical or mental health conditions, they aren’t familiar with the strengths-based approach. Moreover, when asked to identify their own personal strengths, a common reaction is silence, puzzlement, or a lack of understanding of what their strengths could be.

When someone isn’t certain about their strengths, there are various ways to help them identify what they are uniquely good at. One useful tool is the Adult Needs and Strengths Assessment (ANSA). It was developed specifically for use in care plans of adults with mental health or substance use challenges.

One section of the ANSA covers 12 different areas of personal strengths, rated as "significant strength," "moderate strength," "mild strength," or "strength is not present."

Source: stanciuc/CanStockPhoto

For each of the 12 personal strengths assessed on the ANSA, detailed descriptions are provided for each of the possible ratings. Here’s a quick overview of the 12 strength areas:

1) Family

This strength is defined as all family with whom the individual remains in contact. Ratings reflect how much love, support, and respect is provided to the person by their family.

2) Social Connectedness

This strength refers to the interpersonal skills of the individual as they relate to others. Ratings indicate how many friends the person has, their faculty with social skills, and their ability to maintain healthy relationships.

3) Optimism

This strength is rated based on the person’s sense of his/her own future and whether they have a positive orientation about the future. Someone with a strong, stable positive outlook on the future will receive a higher rating.

4) Talents and Interests

This strength is based broadly on any creative or artistic skills or talent the person may have, such as art, theater, music, and athletics.

5) Educational

This area refers to the strengths of the person’s current school or vocational training environment and may not necessarily reflect any specific educational or work skills the person has. This area may be rated as not applicable if the person is not currently in an educational or work training environment.

6) Volunteering

This strength describes the degree to which someone acknowledges the importance of, and is regularly involved in, volunteer activities that give back to the community.

7) Job History

This strength describes the person’s past experience and stability with paid employment.

8) Spiritual/Religious

This strength assesses the person’s involvement in spiritual or religious beliefs and activities.

9) Community Connection

This strength is based on the person’s level of involvement in and support from community groups, networks, or activities.

10) Natural Supports

This area refers to unpaid individuals other than family members who provide support to the person toward improving their health and well-being.

11) Resiliency

This strength is based on the person’s ability to identify and use their strengths to better themselves and to manage difficult challenges in their lives.

12) Resourcefulness

This strength reflects the degree to which the person is skilled at finding the necessary resources required to aid in achieving a healthy lifestyle and in managing challenges.

Going through the 12 ANSA strength areas can yield a helpful profile of the strengths a person has, which are either already well-established or potential areas for future growth and development.

For example, one person I assisted was able to see that they already had significant strengths in the areas of family, talents/interests, and spiritual/religious involvement. However, they did not have well-developed strengths in job history, community connections or volunteering, and they were able to identify personal goals to further develop their strengths in these three areas.

It’s also important to note that these 12 areas aren’t the only ones which can be strengths for someone. Other strengths can include many positive character traits, such as motivation, determination, honesty, and integrity. Also, there are a host of other things which are often taken for granted that are certainly strengths if you have them and an almost definite problem if you don’t. These include adequate housing, money, access to health care, basic literacy, and transportation, just to name a few.

Take a look at your strengths sometime. Which are solid and which need a little more focused attention? You may be surprised to find that you have several significant strengths already. It can also be exciting to find new areas for personal growth which you may not have considered.

By building your personal strengths, you will find you can enjoy life more and find greater satisfaction and a sense of purpose. So get out there and find your strengths!

Copyright David Susman 2022

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